Education and Skills

Innovating for learning: How two innovators made access to books and education more inclusive

The world has set ambitious education goals to be achieved by 2030.

The world has set ambitious education goals to be achieved by 2030. Image: We Love Reading

Adam Gavin
Impact Communications Specialist, Foundations, World Economic Forum
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SDG 01: No Poverty

  • There's a big funding gap that is preventing children's access to learning in many poorer countries.
  • Social innovators play a key role in society by offering disruptive services in areas where traditional institutions have fallen short, including in education and learning.
  • Here's how We Love Reading and First Book continue to improve access to books and educational resources, making education more inclusive for everyone.

The world has set ambitious education goals to be achieved by 2030. However, a 2023 report by UNESCO estimates a significant funding gap to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 - ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

This funding gap is preventing children in many poorer countries from receiving their right to education. Social innovators, who prioritize purpose over profits in their organizations, play a crucial role in society by offering new approaches and disruptive services in situations where traditional institutions and markets have failed to provide solutions. Education is one of them.

Cultural norms, gender, class and the value societies place on education are some barriers to accessing books and education. Rana Dajani, Founder and Director of We Love Reading, and Kyle Zimmer, President, CEO, and Co-Founder of First Book, have spent decades innovating the educational sector to make learning more inclusive.

Through the power of books and storytelling, Dajani and Zimmer have sought to overcome educational barriers that marginalized communities face. We Love Reading and First Book have implemented both digital and physical solutions, and they offer insight into how digital and physical access to books and educational resources can complement each other to improve learning.

Here's how Dajani, of We Love Reading, and Zimmer, from First Book, have worked towards making education more inclusive.

Rana Dajani, Founder and Director, We Love Reading

We Love Reading, founded by Dajani in 2010, aims to foster a love of learning and reading by connecting it to pleasure and fun.

Since its founding, the organization has expanded to more than 60 countries around the world, trained 8,000 women who have started ‘reading aloud’ activities in a diverse range of communities – rural and urban, as well as refugee camps.

When children and adults fall in love with reading, they become lifelong readers and therefore lifelong learners.

Rana Dajani, Founder and Director, We Love Reading

Dajani, the recipient of the 2022 Social Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, underscores the importance of native language and local culture in promoting a love of reading and learning among children.

She advocates for books that are not only in the children's native language but also reflect their local culture. This approach allows children to connect with the stories, fostering a sense of pride and confidence.

By involving the local community, Dajani says we can tailor education programmes to the unique needs of the children and families, making learning more accessible and engaging.

Rana Dajani, Founder and Director of We Love Reading, is reimagining the role of teachers to include family or members of one’s community.
Rana Dajani, Founder and Director of We Love Reading, is reimagining the role of teachers to include family or members of one’s community. Image: We Love Reading

Dajani criticizes the top-down approach of many international organizations, which often overlooks the specific challenges and needs of the local community. In contrast, We Love Reading provides communities with a supportive framework to establish their own educational and reading programmes.

Access to digital educational resources is increasing, but it's crucial to acknowledge that not all children in marginalized communities have access to the internet or digital resources.


We Love Reading prioritizes physical access to books to encourage reading from a young age. Its philosophy is that children don't need an abundance of books as they often find joy in revisiting stories. Once the love of reading has been ignited, children can explore digital resources if they are available and accessible.

We Love Reading uses digital platforms to train adults and youth to become WLR ambassadors who can then read aloud to children. This training is a low-tech solution that is widely accessible.

Kyle Zimmer, Co-Founder, President and CEO, First Book

Kyle Zimmer, the recipient of the 2006 Social Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, co-founded First Book over three decades ago to remove barriers to education for the estimated 27 million US children growing up in marginalized communities.

I co-founded First Book to address a market failure – that millions of children in low-income communities didn't have access to books. This market failure leads to educational disparities that perpetuate lifelong inequities.

Kyle Zimmer, Co-Founder, President and CEO, First Book

Empowered by a network of 575,000-plus individual educators, practitioners and volunteers, First Book has addressed a market failure in ways that conventional businesses and charities haven't: it aggregated previously fragmented groups of teachers, practitioners, and volunteers serving kids in need into a new market.

First Book uses insights from educators and data gathered through the organization's research arm to understand the content its members need. This enables First Book to purchase books from publishers in large volumes on a non-returnable basis and negotiate the lowest prices.

Additionally, First Book manages all of the warehousing, shipping and marketing. This approach drives down the cost of books while increasing the relevance of books and educational products to better meet the needs of children in under-resourced communities.

Kids selecting books at First Book’s Impact Summit
Children selecting books at First Book's Impact Summit. Image: First Book

A small margin built into prices on the First Book Marketplace contributes to the organization's self-sustainability and has allowed it to grow into the largest specialty buyer for most of the major children's publishers in the US.

It provides children living in poverty with new books and resources, enabling educators to select what they need for the kids they serve, and creating a new market for publishers, content producers, and others.

Digital and physical books and educational resources complement each other. Sharing physical books with babies and young children can provide important bonding time with parents and caregivers. It also enables young children to learn how to interact with books.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve digital intelligence in children?

However, it's not only about the format but the content. In our diverse world, all children, from the earliest ages, need access to diverse books to see themselves and learn about others. Diverse books help children develop understanding and empathy and impact reading engagement.

In 2023, First Book Research & Insights released the results of a six-month study involving nearly 450 classrooms to explore diverse books' impact on student reading. The study revealed that adding diverse books to classroom libraries increased collective student reading time by four hours per week, resulting in reading scores that were three percentage points higher than the national annual expected averages.

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